Any quality amp should be diverse, no matter its design. The Taurus SH3 (Stomp Head) HG (High-Gain) Amplifier is exceptional in its overall diversity and design, as well as in sound. Taurus may not be as well known as other amp companies (at least in North America), but this European company has been around since 1983 and should be given serious consideration for what they have achieved with their proprietary Master Tube Design and creating a Stomp Head style amplifier. Below is a sound/features demo to get this point across.
The SH3 is a pure analog Tube and Solid State hybrid. The tube is located between the pre-amp and power-amp while influencing both. And so, what you get are the dynamics of a tube amp (the breaking up, the saturation, harmonics, sustain, etc.), while achieving incredible clarity and articulation of the notes, whether playing clean, with some crunch or full-on high-gain. This is vital for metal and hard rock players and particularly those with extended 7 and 8 string guitars. Often playing low notes results in muddiness… and so having the right pickups help, but so too does having an amp that can provide an authentic (non-digital) result while remaining clear and true to the sound of the guitar, its pickups and the effects pedals used. As a result, the Taurus SH3-HG really cuts through the mix when recording – you can differentiate individual tracks when layering and while having those tracks stand apart from the drums and bass.
Further to the above, when playing on the Clean channel you can tweak the bass, mid-range and treble to your heart’s content and the notes remain obvious and clear, even if you turn the mid and treble down completely (it doesn’t sound bass heavy with a boom or thud). Full high-gain also comes through loud and clear while delivering an excellent punch for plenty of in-your-face rhythm chugs – there’s a very edgy and dirty quality to the high-gain. A pleasant surprise was in the Crunch (Clean channel while increasing Gain), which has a throaty grind or dirt to it – very ‘classic’ in its sound, and yet more modern. The High-Gain channel also can act as a Crunch, you merely have to tone down the Gain to achieve a result that is unique from the Clean channel (you get two Crunches in one amp!).
An added bonus is that each Channel has its own ‘Middle Range’ button. And so, when you set the Middle knob you have a particular mid-frequency; but when you press the Range button it shifts the mids into a higher mid-frequency range. If that’s unclear, think of adding some Treble into your mid-range.
Both channels have their own Presence so that you can add whatever sparkle you wish. And you can apply a Boost to either the Clean or High-Gain channels. I must say this is one of the best Boosts I’ve heard, as it is truly transparent (in that it doesn’t alter the tone’s characteristics), and yet it makes the signal sound slightly fatter or full – very nice on lead playing. The headroom is huge on this Boost… setting it at 2.5 to 3 (out of 10) and you can hear a distinct difference or punch to the signal. Going half-way to a level 5 is too much… at least to my ears. Consequently, it’s unlikely you will run out of Boost!
A feature that I find impressive is the BLEND control. This allows you to combine both Clean and High-Gain channels for even more tonal combinations. By easing off the Gain on the High-Gain channel (and adding in the Clean, with or without a touch of gain) you can get some excellent rock sounds without going full metal. I recall seeing a review for a different Taurus stomp head whereby the reviewer did not like the Blend feature – but he had the High-Gain at full distortion, which simply fattened up the signal (while taking away the edginess of the high-gain) when adding the Clean channel. Conversely, tweaking both channels as I suggest produces some nice and very usable sounds that are quite varied and that make the SH3-HG extremely diverse.
The ability to dial in so many tones, from soft clean playing to high-gain is an incredible feature as it stands, but the group at Taurus Amps has set a new standard with their Stomp Head technology. They are the first to integrate tube technology in a literal Stomp Head. Although you easily could place this atop a speaker cabinet, it is meant to be placed on the floor by your feet (where you play)… and even on your pedal board – this means shorter cable connections with your effects and, as a result, a cleaner signal with less noise. Weighing less than 5-pounds (2.2 kg) it is far lighter than most amp heads (throw it in a backpack with some cables and you’re ready to go!) and does not take up too much bulk on the pedal board (unless you’re into having a dozen or more pedals); I suspect that the diversity and quality of tones achieved with this amp would not require a plethora of pedals surrounding it in any case (likely a typical delay, some type of modulation, a wah pedal, etc.).
The design itself sold me, as did some of the sound samples I heard on YouTube videos (as well as the channel Blend feature). But there’s a lot more. You can select the nature of the power output, whether playing on stage or in a studio, and whether you want 7 or 15 watts (Studio) or 25 or 60 watts (Stage)… keeping in mind that this is a true 60 watts of power, which is loud enough for most stages apart from large arenas. As well, there’s a 6dB input boost button if you’re in the need for even more power. You also can change the voltage (120-230) if you happen to travel abroad and need to meet a country’s voltage requirements.
The SH3-HG amp has the ability to determine whether you are plugging into a 4, 8 or 16 ohm amp cabinet; no need to guess, flip switches, etc. And if you go direct to a PA system (you can do both… cabinet and PA), you can do so with or without the built-in cab simulator. The Line Out accepts a stereo cable, and so when you use such a cable direct to a PA or your music DAW program you get the sound of a 4x12 CELESTION Vintage 30 cabinet (a regular quarter-inch cable produces the sound of the amp alone – same tones, but not quite as full or beefy for obvious reasons).
There is an Effects Loop, which is fairly standard on most amps, but also a Phones in for private playing and an Auxiliary In for other audio devices like an MP3 player – allowing you to jam to backing tracks, songs, etc. And in case you want to have a separate controller for Mute, Boost and Channel change there is an input for an External Controller (some musicians may choose to place the amp atop a cabinet and require a separate controller).
RELIABILITY & DURABILITY
The design for the SH3 is well thought out. Not only is it angled for clearer viewing and access to the controls when viewed from above, the housing is steel all around. The footswitches are solid in feel and located several inches from the other controls… and there’s enough distance between the foot controls that your foot will not accidentally stomp down on something other than what is intended. The power chord is placed in the back, as is guitar in and the cabinet out. Any accessory inputs/outputs are located along the left side of the amp, which likely would not be used in a gig situation unless you are going direct to a PA without an on-stage cabinet (regardless, the cable out to a PA is not in harm’s way).
Each amplifier, from any company, has its unique tonal characteristics and features. If you truly desire the sound of a Blackstar, Mesa Boogie, etc., then obviously your decision will be directed toward that purchase. The sound, and particularly the High-Gain tone is different with the SH3-HG, but stands out in the crowd and is very competitive in that regard. Ola Englund (a well-known YouTube metal-head) demonstrated the SH4-HG (an older model, but with very similar tones) and he definitely impressed his YouTube viewers, as well as myself – hard-hitting distortion that remained clear and articulate. Consequently, all the tonal features and capabilities of the SH3-HG are equal to any amp in its price-range AND it is smaller, more compact and designed for multiple uses… atop your cabinet, on the floor where you play or on your pedal board next to your effects.
However, one of the downfalls of the SH3-HG is that it is not a traditional amp head. It looks different and has a different design (being on the floor or on your pedal board). As a result, I suspect some people may view the SH3-HG as costly ($729 Canadian) because they are not used to the concept (thinking it’s a big pedal) and there are some full tube amp heads (not many and often with limited features) for about the same price. In the high-gain arena, I don’t believe full tube offers anything superior – the loudness and ‘thickness’ of the music genre demands clarity, which is a big problem in production when mixing. The SH3-HG automatically produces greater clarity because of the solid-state aspect, but still delivers the dynamics people want from tubes – which is where the Taurus Master Tube Design triumphs. Consequently, I would hope musicians would set aside any biases when it comes to the Stomp Head concept and investigate this amp even further for what it offers as an entire package.